Skip navigation

Interview With Ted Peterson

Author: 
Various
Librarian Comment: 

Sinder Velvin's Note:
At the beginning of February 2005, I asked Ted Peterson, Additional Designer for The Elder Scrolls I: Arena, Lead Designer for The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall and the writer of many books for The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, if I could interview him for the Imperial Library.

He agreed. The rest can be found below. And please don't laugh at my semantics questions; I wanted to know if "Mora" really had the meaning of "grove", since Hermaeus Mora doesn't look like a grove.

Sinder Velvin:
Hello, Mr. Ted Peterson. I'm very glad that you have agreed to be interviewed, but how many questions are you willing to answer?

Ted Peterson:
Hey SV. As many as you want, but I liked the idea of doing them in small doses. I did an interview a while back where there were fifty questions all at once, and it was hard for me to find the time to dedicate... Besides, if you do a couple questions and answers, you can do follow-up questions more easily... That work for you?

Sinder Velvin:
Of course. One question at a time. For starters, do you, by any chance, have a list of the Elder Scrolls books that you've written? Hmm... I know for certain that Carlovac Townway and Waughin Jarth's books were written by you, but I don't know about others.

Ted Peterson:
Just for Morrowind? Looking at the Imperial Library listings: The Ancient Tales of the Dwemer; Fragment: On Artaeum; Mysticism, The Unfathomable Voyage; Notes on Racial Phylogeny; On Oblivion; The Old Ways; Origin of the Mages Guild; An Overview of Gods and Worship; Response to Bero's Speech; The Wild Elves; 2920; Biography of the Wolf Queen; Brief History of the Empire; Dance in Fire; The Firsthold Revolt; Galerion the Mystic; A Game At Dinner; How Orsinium Passed to the Orcs; The Madness of Pelagius; The Pig Children; The Wolf Queen; The Armorers' Challenge; The Axe Man; The Black Arrow; Bone; Breathing Water; The Cake and the Diamond; Chance's Folly; Feyfolken; The Final Lesson; The Four Suitors of Benitah; The Gold Ribbon of Merit; Hallgerd's Tale; A Hypothetical Treachery; Ice and Chitin; Incident in Necrom; Last Scabbard of Akrash; The Locked Room; Marksmanship Lesson; Master Zoaraym's Tale; The Mirror; The Mystery of Princess Talara; Night Falls on Sentinel; Palla; The Poison Song; Realizations of Acrobacy; The Rear Guard; Silence; Smuggler's Island; Surfeit of Thieves; The Third Door; Trap; Vernaccus and Bourlor; Withershins; The Wraith's Wedding Dowry; The Death Blow of Abernanit; The Horror of Castle Xyr; A Less Rude Song; Lord Jornibret's Last Dance; Cherim's Heart of Anequina; Invocation of Azura; The Charwich-Koniinge Letters; The Buying Game... I think that's it...

Sinder Velvin:
Wow... Some of my favorite books. Thank you very much for making the list, Mr. Ted Peterson, as it is very, very helpful. I bet it must have taken a while to make... To tell you the truth, I was hoping that you already had a list of your books (so you wouldn't have to make one now), but it seems I was wrong. Once again, thank you. And if it isn't too much to ask, could you please also tell me which Daggerfall books you've written? That way I'll be able to see if my favorite Elder Scrolls book is written by you or not. Of course, if it isn't too much of a bother.

Ted Peterson:
Sure. Of course, I edited all of them in Daggerfall, but the ones that I wrote completely (and some of these are in Morrowind too): Galerion the Mystic; The Madness of Pelagius; Ius, Animal God (regrettably); The Asylum Ball; A History of Daggerfall; Brief History of the Empire; The Fall of the Usurper; A Dubious Tale of the Crystal Tower; Banker's Bet; Healer's Tale; Jokes; Rude Song; The Arrowshot Woman; A Scholar's Guide to Nymphs; An Overview of Gods and Worship; Broken Diamonds; Confessions of a Thief; Etiquette with Rulers; Fragment: On Artaeum; Ghraewaj; Holidays of the Iliac Bay; Invocation of Azura; Legal Basics; Mysticism; On Oblivion; On Lycanthropy; Origin of the Mages Guild; Special Flora of Tamriel; The Alik'r; The Brothers of Darkness; The Faerie; The Old Ways; The Wild Elves; Vampires of the Iliac Bay; Wabbajack; The Pig Children; The War of Betony by Newgate; The War of Betony by Fav'te; Wayrest, Jewel of the Bay.

Sinder Velvin:
Wonderful! Thank you for this list, Mr. Ted Peterson. It is incredibly useful. And you are truly a great writer. I wonder... What is your favorite Elder Scrolls book?

Ted Peterson:
Heh heh. Thanks!

Ah, my favorite book is always the one I'm writing right now. Of the ones that have been in the games, probably 2920, because that was the hardest to write and I think it flows pretty well (though it's impossible to understand unless you read all the books in the right order). My favorite of the ones I didn't write has to be The Real Barenziah, with the 36 Lessons a close second.

Sinder Velvin:
Ah, 2920. That book is one of my favorites as well. More precisely, it's my 3rd most favorite Elder Scrolls book. And now, could you tell us a bit about yourself, Mr. Ted Peterson? Not "A Brief History of Ted Peterson", but instead a summary of "A Brief History of Ted Peterson". I would really like to know more about you.

Ted Peterson:
Your third favorite? You're forcing me to ask... What are the top 2?

It occurred to me that you may or may not have read the interview I did with Ultimate way back before Morrowind was released. There are actually two parts to the interview, but the second part links to the first. I just thought that would be a good summary for you, a "brief history" as it were...

Sinder Velvin:
Number 2 would be The Poison Song, while Number 1 would be Fools' Ebony. It's almost a tie, though. About that interview, I did read it a while ago. But it doesn't say how you came to work for Bethesda, or anything about you before you worked for Bethesda. Also, it doesn't say anything about your more recent projects at Savage Entertainment. See, I asked you for "A Brief History of Ted Peterson", not "A Brief History of Ted Peterson At Bethesda Softworks".

Ted Peterson:
So, a brief biographical summary. I graduated from the University of North Carolina with a degree in English Literature. I went up to Washington D.C. after graduation and got a job waiting tables while I looked for a career. As a writer, I found myself looking at very bland Wanted ads in the Washington Post: things like junior editor for the Society of Retired Podiatrists' lobbying newsletter. I must have sent out 50 resumes and letters, but this was in 1992, when the economy was in the doldrums and no one was hiring for anything.

The very last Wanted ad in that Washington Post simply said "Writer Wanted. Preferably writer of sci-fi and fantasy. P.O. Box Blah Blah Blah, Rockville, Maryland."

It was literally two lines long, and didn't even give the name of the business. It sounded like nonsense, maybe a get-rich-quick scheme, and I wasn't going to reply, but after sending out 50 resumes with very serious cover letters, I decided to have some fun. The letter I wrote was basically, "Dear P.O., I don't know what kind of a company you are, and I really sincerely doubt that writing sci-fi and fantasy stories is any kind of a career people actually do. Against my better judgement, I have decided to send you a copy of my resume and some of the stories I've written. There's not much else you need to know about me, other than I'm a recent college graduate, perfectly normal in every way except when the full moon comes out, I grow butterfly wings and a third eye. Yours Truly, Ted Peterson."

They called me back the next day. Turns out they were Bethesda Softworks and they made computer games. I probably hadn't played any computer games since the early 80s with Zork and the original Wolfenstein, and I was not at all technologically savvy (truth be told, I'm still not very).

I interviewed with Julian LeFay, who was looking for a junior designer to do an add-on pack for their game Terminator 2029, which had some minor success. He also said that he wanted someone who knew role-playing games and fantasy stuff for a game he had been trying to get made for a while called Arena, which was going to be a gladiatorial action game with some light role-playing elements. Somehow I got the job, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Sinder Velvin:
Thank you for the summary; it was most informative. Now, next question. What happened to Julian LeFay following the release of Daggerfall?

Ted Peterson:
Julian hung around Bethesda for a few more years than I did. He did Battlespire with then-newly-hired designer Ken Rolston, and then went off to work at a couple different game companies before leaving the business.

Sinder Velvin:
Between Arena and Daggerfall, which was harder to make?

Ted Peterson:
Oh, Daggerfall by a lot. A lot more ambitious project. We pretty much were on "crunch time", working round the clock, for a year.

Sinder Velvin:
TES games have never been what they were originally meant to be. TES1: Arena was meant to be an action game with gladiators, TES2: Daggerfall was initially called TES2: Mournhold and was supposed to take place in Morrowind, An Elder Scrolls Legend: Battlespire was initially supposed to be an expansion pack for TES2: Daggerfall and TES3: Morrowind was supposed to feature the entire province of Morrowind and all the five houses (and you were supposed to be able to join each of them), and Dagoth Ur's Blight was actually supposed to expand with the passing of time. Why do you think that TES games (with the exception of An Elder Scrolls Adventure: Redguard) have never turned out to be what they were initially planned to be?

Ted Peterson:
Hmm. Interesting question. Definitely Arena was much different from the way it was initially envisioned, but I don't think Daggerfall and Morrowind were that different from the initial plans. The switch from locations in TES2 from Morrowind to Daggerfall happened probably in the first week of design, so it didn't really impact it at all. Not that there weren't plenty of features in DF (and in all TES games, and really all games in general) that didn't get implemented. But, as Browning said -- Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, Or what's a heaven for?

Sinder Velvin:
From what I understand, many things that were planned for Daggerfall never made it in the final game, such as rope climbing, jousting and dragons. Why is that?

Ted Peterson:
Actually I think it's pretty astonishing how many things actually did make it into Daggerfall... I mean, don't forget that turning into a vampire and a werewolf and buying boats and property and all that stuff were essentially "Easter Eggs" in the game. We didn't mention any of that in the manual or in previews... They were just things to reward the player if he kept on playing... As for the things that didn't get implemented, we had what you call "feature creep", which isn't surprising since our mission statement at the beginning was that this would be a game where you do anything and be anyone -- which is the sorta overambitious... Really, we just ran out of time. I forget about all the things we wanted to include until something comes to light like the random bard songs uncovered by The Imperial Library.

Sinder Velvin:
Hehe... I've never looked at vampirism as an easter egg before. About those features that were not implemented, they certainly would have been nice, but Daggerfall was an excellent game even without them. Sure, it had a few faults, but they did not bother me too much.

Now, another question. Back in 1994, a TES game called Oblivion was designed (or so my sources say). The upcoming TES4: Oblivion isn't the same game as the Oblivion that was designed in 1994, of course, but could you tell me about this Oblivion that never came to be?

Ted Peterson:
To answer your question, there really wasn't a plan for TES IV: Oblivion back when we mentioned it during the production of Daggerfall. Truthfully, during that production, it was all we could do to make the game, though we were definitely daydreaming of what could be done with future games in the series. Really, it was surprising enough that we could do a second TES game, since the sales of Arena were not that great - more a little cult hit.

Sinder Velvin:
So, you work for Savage Entertainment right now, but you still write books for Oblivion. Are you under a contract for Bethesda?

Ted Peterson:
Yes, I am. Same as I was for Morrowind.

Sinder Velvin:
Besides Hell Week, are there any other movies that you've written screenplays for?

Ted Peterson:
None of them have been produced yet, but in addition to Hell Week at MGM, my brother and I have sold three other scripts, one to Francis Ford Coppola at American Zoetrope, one to Tony and Tim Bui (director/producer brothers who made "Three Seasons"), one at Penn Station (producers of "Constantine") with Justin Lim (director who made "Better Luck Tomorrow" and "Annapolis") attached to direct. And we've got a couple possible deals in the works, but no contract yet, so we will see... Fingers crossed.

Sinder Velvin:
Heh... Good luck. Did you, by any chance, go to the Oscars this year?

Ted Peterson:
I didn't go to the actual Oscars (I couldn't imagine anything worse than sitting through a three hour ceremony when you don't even get a chance to get an award -- at least at the Golden Globes you get dinner and drinks), but I did go to some of the parties afterwards. Oh yeah, and I won $100 for having the most correct Oscar predictions this year out of a pool I entered.

Sinder Velvin:
You've accomplished a lot of things in your life. But what accomplishments are you the proudest of?

Ted Peterson:
Tough question. I have to admit that I don't look back on things that I've done very much. I mean, I'm not old yet. The Elder Scrolls series has been a part of my life since 1992, and I'm proud of my role in creating and maintaining the series. A couple times I've heard from fans who never got into reading until they came across the books in Daggerfall or Morrowind, and now they actually read real books. That makes me proud, knowing that in some way I improved some strangers' lives. It's more than good enough to know lots of people have been entertained by the games, but finding out they've actually learned something - that's a proud feeling.

Sinder Velvin:
That must be very nice. And now, what do you seek to acheive in the future?

Ted Peterson:
I'd like to keep making games obviously, and stay involved in some degree with the Elder Scrolls for as long as it lasts, which is hopefully years to come. I'd like some of my scripts to be made into movies. And I'd like to write some novels down the line...

Sinder Velvin:
Good luck, Mr. Ted Peterson. And, to tell you the truth, I would love to buy your novels.

Hmm... How old are you, anyway?

Ted Peterson:
I just turned 36. A mere baby.

Sinder Velvin:
Belated happy birthday.

Is there anything whatsoever that you can tell us about the books that you will be writing for Oblivion? I won't mind at all if you say no.

Ted Peterson:
I can't go into many details right now, but I can say that a lot of the books are based on things the fans asked for. A couple times in the TES forums there were discussions about what they'd like to have explored more in lore. For example, there's not enough lore about Black Marsh in the games, so I've written up a series that takes place there. The old authors like Waughin Jarth will also have new books.

Sinder Velvin:
Ah, I can't wait! Your work will certainly be as excellent as usual.

Can I please ask you a few lore questions now? Nothing about great intentional mysteries such as the Disappearance of The Dwemer, or the Dragon Break, or the Battle of Red Mountain. Just a few minor mystery questions.

Ted Peterson:
Absolutely, ask me anything you like... Though I may not be able to answer them all...

Sinder Velvin:
Alright. My first question, then. Which is about Aldmeris. The Morrowind book called Mysterious Akavir says that the word "Atmora" means "Elder Grove". And the word "Atmora" looks as if it's made up from two different words: "At" and "Mora". Thing is, the word "Mora" is encountered more than just once. For example, the name "Sadrith Mora" is made up of "Sadrith" and "Mora". But does "Mora" mean "Elder" or "Grove"? When one looks at the strange Telvanni architectural style, in which buildings look like plants, one could assume that "Mora" means "Grove", since one could see a Telvanni settlement as a grove. However, the word "Mora" also appears in the name of a Daedra Prince, more precisely in "Hermaeus Mora". Now, Mr. Mora might look a bit strange, but he certainly isn't a grove. So this makes me think that "Mora" actually means "Elder", which makes sense with "Hermaeus Mora", because one could look at the Daedra Prince as a wise elder. Is it correct that "Mora" means "Elder"? To answer my own question, probably not, since there is proof that "Mora" means "Grove". But what does "Hermaeus Mora" mean, then?

Ted Peterson:
I thought I ought to research the answer, but the truth is -- I don't know. I imagine few if any in Tamriel know what the names of the Daedra Princes mean. If I were to make a guess as an academic, I'd say that his name in distant translation was a metaphor: for example, Hermaeus Mora may mean "A Grove In The Wilderness" or "Hidden Grove," with the suggestion that he represents secret truths not easily found, and a grove is a clearing of trees... Even in our world, some speak of the "Groves of Academia"...

I know that's not really an answer, but a direction.

Sinder Velvin:
My next question, now: is Malacath truly a Daedra Prince? A certain Morrowind book called The True Nature of Orcs claims that he is not a Daedra Prince, while most other books claim that he is one.

Ted Peterson:
Now if I answered questions like that, what fun would people interested in research and ambiguity in the TES world have? But if you want my opinion, Malacath is a Prince of Oblivion, the equal of Azura, Boethiah, Sheogorath, Mehrunes Dagon, and all the others. It’s possible (though, again, more of a traditional belief than anything else – no one is alive who could say for certain) that Malacath came into existence in a different way that the others, but nowadays, he is powerful, and evoked whenever someone has felt betrayed … which in Tamriel is quite often.

Sinder Velvin:
Should Orcs be considered Elves? After all, they were once Elves, but then they were... Corrupted.

Ted Peterson:
The origin of the "races", if that's even the proper term for them since many of them can interbreed, is largely speculative and based on myths and traditions. The corruption of the Orsimer is a popular explanation, but many in Tamriel consider them a beast race like the Argonians, thus the term "pig children". Of course, it's very difficult to separate scholarly research into the origin of species without social ramifications. It's a bit fuzzy, the differences between races anyhow. Bretons are considered one of the "man" races of Tamriel, but tradition has them with plenty of ancient mer blood in them. The Khajiit, considered a "beast race" now, may have some ancestors in common with the Mer as well, according to some traditions.

Most people in Tamriel will say there are three main groups of elves -- the Bosmer, Dunmer, and Altmer. The less common strains of Ayleid, Maormer, Falmer, and others would also be considered part of the family. The Orsimer, even most charitably, would be considered a rather distant cousin.

Sinder Velvin:
Very interesting information, Mr. Ted Peterson. Thank you. And now, a question about the words "Daedroth" and "Daedra". A Dark Elf with the profession of Savant would be called a "Dark Elf Savant", and not a "Dark Elves Savant". We use the singular "Dark Elf", not the plural "Dark Elves", in this situation. The singular of "Daedra" is "Daedroth", and yet the Princes of Oblivion are called "Daedra Princes", and not "Daedroth Princes". Is it incorrect to call the Princes of Oblivion "Daedra Princes"? Or is it incorrect to call them "Daedroth Princes"? Or are they both correct?

Ted Peterson:
Ah, the world of semantics. Short answer: Daedra is plural, Daedroth is singular. Long answer: Almost no one uses these terms correctly in Tamriel. Why? Because, just like in our own world, words change meanings out of popular usage. There is a creature simply called a Daedroth, after all: those big, bipedal, reptilian beasts that are the terror of the four corners of Tamriel. Somehow, in ages past, they were given this confusing name, probably by someone who, when asked what that creature was, gave a generic answer which was taken to be a specific one.

This isn't as stange as it seems. If you look up the origin of just about any word, it evolves from the general to the particular. It has come to time in Tamriel where no one, except for a few snooty academics, would say "Daedroth".

As for Daedra Princes/Daedroth Princes, neither is actually correct. Most people would say "Daedra Princes" because, as above, that is the traditional phrase. However, it should be adjective/noun, and therefore "Daedric Princes."

In short, proper grammar and long held traditions seldom meet, in Tamriel or on Earth.

Sinder Velvin:
From now on, you won't hear the words "Daedra Princes" from me again. Anyway, isn't it true that the Tamriellic human races besides Redguards are related to each more than they are related to Redguards?

Ted Peterson:
Yes, common lore says that all humans on Tamriel can be traced back to the continent of Atmora, except for the Redguards who came from Yokuda.

Sinder Velvin:
And now, my final question for you, Mr. Ted Peterson.

The book Mysterious Akavir says that Tsaesci are serpent-folk, the book Notes on Racial Phylogeny hints at the fact that Tsaesci are not human, the Annotated Anuad claims that they are human and 2920 says that they are snake men.

Could you please tell me what Tsaesci really are? Or at least provide a clue?

Ted Peterson:
Heh heh, you can have as many questions as you want. Especially since my answer to this isn't going to be satisfactory. The Tsaesci may be assumed to resemble snakes in some way, but I wouldn't want to say much more about them -- the denizens of Akavir are up there with Daedra as TES mysteries. Almost assuredly in some future TES game, you'll get more information about them, but for most people in Tamriel, the Tsaesci are monsters which, thank Mara, are no longer on their shores.

Sinder Velvin:
If you insist, I will ask you one more question. But just one. I really don't want to bore you with hundreds of questions.

So, is Thras a continent? Or is it part of Tamriel?

Ted Peterson:
I'm not bored. You can ask as many as you'd like.

Thras is definitely not a continent. It's an archipelago of islands, much too small to be considered a continent. And it's not a part of Tamriel in any kind of political or cultural way, which is the only way that an unconnected island (like, say, the UK) could be considered part of a continent (like, say, Europe).

Sinder Velvin:
While I appreciate your offer to keep asking you questions, I am afraid that I must refuse. You have been extremely generous by kindly answering all of those questions and have been very patient as well. To take advantage of your generosity too much would be an unfitting way of thanking you.

But, if possible, I would like to interview you again in the future. You have proven to be a great interviewee and I have greatly enjoyed myself while conversating with you and learning more about you. And thus interviewing you again in the future would prove to be a very pleasant experience. If you will agree, of course. Still, it will be a while until I seek you out again.

And now, I would like to thank you for accepting to do this interview on behalf of myself, The Imperial Library, The Imperial Library's visitors and the entire international Elder Scrolls community. Your answers have been most insightful, and I shall have eternal gratitude towards you for the fact that you have been so kind. May you continue to work on making The Elder Scrolls series as great as it is. Also, good luck with your screenplays. I hope for you to have a long and prosperous life.

Good luck.

And once again, thanks. For this interview and for making The Elder Scrolls what The Elder Scrolls is.

Ted Peterson:
Of course, the pleasure was all mine. Feel free to write back anytime...